Get ready for cognitive networking

The vision of a cognitive network is one step closer

Separate announcements from optical networking vendors Ciena and Infinera bring the vision of a cognitive network one step closer.

Ciena announced on 15 March Liquid Spectrum saying that, by combining fully-instrumented flexible optics and innovative software, it would enable operators to monitor and mine all available network assets, instantly respond to new bandwidth demands and allocate capacity across any path in real time.

Then, on 20 March Infinera announced Instant Networks billing it as “the next generation of software defined capacity (SDC) for cloud scale networks and a necessary foundation for cognitive networking.”

Infinera said Instant Network would enable service providers to activate capacity when revenue-generating services demand it, reduce capital expenditures by diminishing idle optical network capacity and lower business risk by shrinking the time between paying for capacity and activating revenue-generating services.

The cognitive network vision

Where today’s software defined networks allow network links at layer 2 or layer 3 to be configured on the fly through human intervention or by software via an API, the vision of cognitive networking is that artificial intelligence will be aware of networks state and usage patterns and will have the power to reconfigure, on the fly, a wide area network at the level of wavelengths in the optical fibres.

This intelligence will try to predict and optimise data transfer based on historical information, quality of service needs of users and the current state of the network. It could even make recommendations on optimal network configurations.

To achieve this will require not only the AI system but network technology to feed information into it and technology that will enable networks to be reconfigured under software control. Ciena’s Liquid Spectrum and Infinera’s Instant Network both bring that vision closer.

Ciena debuts Liquid Spectrum

Ciena says that with Liquid Spectrum network operators will be able to tune, control and dynamically adjust optical capacity on demand. “Essentially, it means a software-defined platform that will allow networks to predict and address connectivity and capacity challenges as they emerge.”

Liquid Spectrum is an umbrella term of a range of technologies from Ciena, not all of which have been revealed to date. The first three are:

  • Bandwidth Optimiser, which “continually monitors network performance and use real-time analytics to recommend ideal capacity.”
  • Liquid Restoration, which enables any service affected by an outage to be rerouted to other available paths in the network.
  • Wave-line Synchroniser claimed to “accelerate service provisioning, reduce manual provisioning steps, and remove associated human errors in optical deployments.”

Enabling these technologies to operate at the optical level is Ciena’s Wavelogic Ai technology, announced in October 2016. It is Ciena’s next generation coherent optical chipset that it says is “foundational for enabling the vision of a self-driving network” and “provides granular bandwidth tuning capabilities to enable automated, programmable networks.”

Tied in closely to Liquid Spectrum is Ciena’s Blue Planet Manage, Control, and Plan, announced in February 2017, software that “enables network operators to automate the lifecycle of differentiated new services that can be deployed across multi-vendor and multi-domain environments and scaled on demand.”

Anthony McLachlan, vice president and general manager, Asia Pacific, for Ciena, told Computerworld: “Blue Planet is a platform we offer that enables you to reach into the network to control and orchestrate network elements and that provides service flows looking up into the BSS/OSS layer.”

McLachlan likened the application of Ciena’s technology to optical networking to the management of RF spectrum in mobile networks. “Network operators have very good process to mine every bit of that spectrum for capacity. It should be no different for fibre optic assets, which is wavelengths down glass. Why should we not be able to exploit very bit of that spectrum?”

Telstra is likely to be an early user of the technology, although McLachlan would not confirm this. Earlier this month Ericsson announced it had been contracted to expand Telstra’s long haul, metro and regional optical networks, supplying, installing and integrating optical technology from Ciena to enable Telstra to fulfil its ‘Network of the Future’ plan.

According to Ericsson, this plan aims to “bring all the vertical network elements into a horizontal network cloud layer, which will be software-defined and enable Telstra to provision network functionality virtually via software where it is needed,” and “the ability to program and control down to the lowest layer of the network using SDN protocols means the network can be reconfigured dynamically.”

Infinera announces Instant Networking

Similarly, Infinera says its Instant Networking offering allows service providers to activate software defined capacity when revenue-generating services demand it, reduce capital expenditures by lowering the amount of idle optical network capacity, reduce business risk by shrinking the time between paying for capacity an activate revenue-generating services and reduce truck rolls needed to install additional hardware.

Infinera says that, while the industry has made great strides major strides in software-defined networking, progress to date has been around virtualising and controlling Layer 1/2/3 services over a fixed amount of optical capacity that can be increased only by the installation of additional network hardware.

Its latest innovation towards the cognitive network is part technical and part commercial. Service providers can equip their optic fibre network with Infinera photonics to a level of capacity greater than they use, or pay for. Then, under software control capacity usage licences can be instantly purchased and the capacity activated.

In addition those licences are not tied to a specific link in the network but can be moved around the network under software control as required.

Pravin Mahajan, Infinera’s director of product and corporate marketing, said Infinera had been offering Instant Bandwidth since 2012 when it introduced a single optical line card supporting five 100Gbps channels. Customers could pay for, and activate, individual channels as required. However the capacity they bought took several hours to activate and was tied to the line card on which it was purchased.

“In spite of these limitations customers loved it because the alternative was weeks or months,” Mahajan told Computerworld. “Half our customers are already using it.”

He claimed that, in today’s service provider optical network as much as 50 percent of lit capacity is idle because capacity needs to be available at short notice to meet customer demand.

Telstra uses the Infinera technology in its international submarine network, where it supports Telstra's recently launched Always On service. Darrin Webb, Executive director of international operations and services at Telstra, said: “The scale and diversity of our subsea cable network in the Asia Pacific region puts us in a strong position to invest in technologies that deliver on this requirement, such as our new ‘Always On’ service guarantee, which provides world-first assured availability across Asia’s busiest subsea cable routes, and aligns with Infinera’s vision for its Instant Network.”

Network capacity anywhere, instantly

Mahajan said this month’s announcement by Infinera of Instant Network represented a significant advance on Instant Bandwidth “Customers can install a massive amount of capacity [without licences] and we no longer have licences tied to the line cards, they can be moved around freely.”These products, he said, would be available later in 2017.

These products, he said, would work in conjunction with Infinera’s SDN Controller, released in 2015 and which also represents a step towards a cognitive network. “This is the engine that computes the capacity available in the network on different paths and then decides which is the best path.It understand the network topology and provides a recommendation on the best way to deploy licences.”

These technologies, he says, are the building blocks of the cognitive network. “Advanced analytics will monitor streams of telemetry data that will raise awareness of anomalies in the network. Then machine learning techniques will use these analytics to understand and identify trends in the operations of the network. This then leads to autonomous networks that can maintain themselves and self-correct. They could even become predictive and prescriptive, pro-actively recommending solutions for optimising capacity and recommending new routes.”

He said many organisations were working on the components of this vision and that it could start to become a reality within a few years. “We see the cycle becoming complete in a 2020 timeframe. Some elements are available today. We have streaming telemetry on our devices. We are working on machine learning algorithms that can sift through all the data being generated. We see startups addressing analytics. There are some companies investing in machine learning and some in predictive networks.”

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Tags cognitive networkingInfineraSDNNetworkingcognitive networksCienasoftware-defined networking (SDN)software-defined-networking

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